2 JANUARY 2002

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A difficult year and a sigh of relief

If Robbie Williams and Frank Sinatra were asked to select a year to coincide with their serenade 'it was a good year' it would undoubtedly not be 2001.

This was a tough year for business in Malta. Cash strapped business struggled to make ends meet and when the year ended there was a sigh of relief.

This difficult year was characterised by three main considerations: the first one was the slowdown in the economy, the second was the government's campaign to solve tax evasion and the third were new accounting and work ethics.

This led to some anxiety in the middle classes and business sector. It started with much talk about fringe benefits it continued with worries about the tax compliance unit.

But in practise things were not as bad as they appeared. Unemployment was stable, job opportunities too, growth and inflation in line with prescribed thresholds.

But the proof is in the pudding, and if there was a lack of confidence it was to be seen at the Malta Stock Exchange where the index dropped by 33% in January until last Friday, in December.

Stockbrokers blamed the shaping at the stock exchange at the government's decision to tax capital gains from collective investments.

But in all truth it was a reflection of the world markets, with the major slump in dot.com and telecommunication equities the world over.

The trouble at the yards was also a concern for the business community; resolve and determination by the government to put a stop to excesses at the yard was met with much applause.

Expectations run high for the Task force founded to take the yards into this new century.

The year was dominated by other events, the demise of the Price Club, is revealed once again in our choice of Victor Zammit as a newsmaker for 2001.

He was a human face in a business venture that should have worked out but failed because of bad management and a lack of foresight.

On a very positive note, the expansion of the Corinithia Group of companies led by the entrepreneurial spirit of Alfred Pisani led The Malta Business & Financial Times to choose yet another newsmaker. With their exclusive hotel expansion around Europe, the Corinthia Group of Companies has become Malta's first and foremost flagship company.

The war of words on whether there was growth in the economy could not be applied to mobile telephony which saw the success story of Go Mobile as it took up the challenge thanks to its aggressive marketing war.

In doing so, the consumer basked in a cut-price war much to their delight.

For this reason, Go Mobile and Vodafone are chosen as our third newsmaker.

One man who cannot be denied attention, is John Dalli. The man who is treated as a Voodoo doll by the opposition, but who has taken it upon himself to brave the storm. More often than not, without the help of the so-called friendly press.

Targeting deficit control and increased revenue, Malta's Finance minister sailed home before his pre-determined time.

From taxation to benevolence marked his culture change as illustrated in his last budget where he presented a tax-free budget, and a blue print for incentivising small business.

And in an attempt to inject diversification and new investment in the economy he launched an aggressive privatisation programme.

That included the Malta International Airport, the Kordin Grain Terminal, Maltapost and the Public Lotto amongst others. Therefore our fourth choice for newsmaker.

His message for the New Year was optimism with a measured sprinkle of caution.

And with that thought, we wish our readers a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt